Sunday, 28 July 2013

BBC Anyone?

 In the older days when we used to listen to the BBC it always used to stand for British Broadcasting Corporation. Today when I was looking at an email attachment, I saw the same acronym again. What were the British doing, I wondered, in an email on a Goa University website? I found out later that BBC currently stands for the Bakibab Borkar Chair of Comparative Literature. This chair has been instituted, I learnt, by GU. The opening module will feature poets Jeet and Ashok who will interact with students and the general public in Goa next month.

Acronyms have a life of their own beyond the words they stand for. They signify various meanings some of them which have nothing to do with the current set of words they stand for. When a name is shortened by taking the first letters of each word in the name, care should be taken that they do not mean some thing else. I always thank my lucky stars that I was not christened with a middle name beginning with the letter ‘U’.

The more short forms and acronyms are used the more they ironically erase the memory of those they were meant to preserve. M.G. Road is seldom identified with the father of the nation even though every city has one.

Acronyms also act as a gendered code – almost like an idiolect – which is a unique linguistic pattern for users of a particular language. ABCD can stand for the lofty ‘American Born Confused Desi’ or even the Konkani version ‘Ago Bai Cheddi Dista’

Queenie tells me of an overweight 8th standarder in a fitness training class who was dreaming of ‘C.I.D.’ even when she was huffing through the exercises. She asked the trainer if she knew what it stood for. The trainer gave the accepted long form of ‘Criminal Investigation Department.’ She later revealed sheepishly that it stood for ‘Chutney, Idli, Dosa’!

Acronyms often undermine the accepted meanings of the words they stand for. R.I.P. which is usually ‘Rest in Peace,’ is interpreted as ‘Rise If Possible.’

 I have often wondered at the wisdom of ‘MICE tourism.’ Is this the kind of tourism where they flood your holiday with mice? I later found out that it stood for ‘Meetings Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions/Events.’  Did you know there is a business travel magazine called MICEtalk?*  MICE also stands for Manipal Institute of Computer Education.

Many acronyms have interesting origins. We often use ‘posh’ to mean ‘pricey’ or ‘classy’. The word originally was an acronym which in the 1890’s to1910’s stood for ‘Portside Outward Starboard Homeward.’ ‘Port’ stood for the left side and ‘Starboard’ stood for the right side. These spaces on the deck of steamships which traveled from India to England were shaded from the sun to and fro. As a result these passengers could preserve their white skin colour – at a price. The acronym was stamped on the tickets of these ‘posh’ passengers. The word became part of the language to mean better accommodation. What a story!
 *; pix source: visagemobiles(dot)com. This article was printed in Gomantak Times Weekender St.Inez, Goa, on Sunday 28 July 2013.

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